Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meditations on Mac and Cheese

The other night I ventured downtown to meet some colleagues to plot worldwide (web) domination over drinks at Piper’s Gastropub in the bowels of the Royal York, and as I sipped my cabarnet I browsed the menu for some nourishment to take the edge of my withdrawal symptoms, for alas we had a chosen a location without BlackBerry access (picked up the Curve before Christmas, loving it).

As I scanned the menu, my eyes were quickly drawn to this item:

Macaroni and Cheese

Oka and Gouda Cheese Sauce Baked with Macaroni, Smoked Chicken and Canadian Peameal Bacon $16.00

Delicious. I immediately knew what I wanted. As I placed the order, the reaction from my friends was split.

“Well played,” one immediately replied.

“You're going to have $16 macaroni and cheese? I can make that at home for 50 cents,” replied another, incredulous.

Clearly, the former is a wise, learned and cultured soul while the latter sadly knows nothing about the exciting and diverse world of gourmet Mac and Cheese.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good cheap box of Mac & Cheese. While Kraft Dinner has long been the gold standard, lately I’ve been partial to a store brand from Price Choppers: Compliments Extra Creamy Macaroni and Cheese. It takes a little – a lot, actually – of extra milk, but it really is exceedingly creamy.

I rarely stick with just the mac and cheese, though. Hot dogs, of course, are an obvious addition, and chopped and added to the boiling water with the noodles are an easy compliment. When I have more time though, I prefer to chop-up some and cook some hot Italian sausage (with a little hot sauce for zing), and add that to my mac and cheese. Quite tasty.

Gourmet Mac and Cheese though, that’s a whole other world. Sometimes I’ll make it from scratch at home and bake it in the oven. I haven’t perfected it yet and it’s a lot of work, but it’s a whole new level of deliciousness.

And the menu offering at Piper’s did indeed sound gourmet. Oka AND gouda cheese? Smoked chicken? Peameal bacon? You can’t make that at home for 50 cents mon ami.

And when it arrived, it did indeed look and taste delicious. Golden melted cheese on top. Saucy. The right ratio of chicken and bacon to noodle: complementary, generous but not overpowering. It tasted quite good.

One MAJOR problem though: it wasn’t mac and cheese.

That’s right. The noodles were not macaroni noodles. They were rigatoni noodles. I felt cheated. As delicious as the meal was, it was an entirely different culinary experience than it would have been with macaroni.

This wasn’t a mac and cheese dish, it was a pasta dish. As much as I enjoy a good pasta dish, which this was, I was expecting mac and cheese. If I'd wanted a pasta dish, I'd have ordered one. I consider mac and cheese to be a different category from regular pasta dishes. And the type of pasta does make a difference.

With rigatoni I would eat it one or two noodles at a time. Macaroni; a spoonful. Entirely different texture and feeling on the pallet. The ratio of pasta to ingredients in the mouth, and the size and texture, makes a difference.

My point being, if you’re going to put mac and cheese on the menu, which is a somewhat bold choice but one I fully applaud, then actually serve it with macaroni noodles. Don’t puss-out and substitute a more conventional pasta.

You can’t have mac and cheese without the mac!

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

No comments: